Starring Sterling K Brown, Alexa Demie, Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
“Waves” first act is a roller coaster of emotion. It’s the editing that lifts you very high on this ride as you wait for the inevitable fall. Houston filmmaker Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha,” “It Comes At Night”), returns in his most solid film yet. The trailer is selling you “Moonlight,” but “Waves” is offering you something altogether different. Shults leans heavily on loud music, neon lights and the most intricate and immersive editing I’ve encountered this year. His technical elements, at least in the first half, always announce their presence yet somehow don’t steal from the performances. There are large narrative changes in the second half that replaces those elements so blunt at the beginning with subtlety.
How quickly can someone go from having a normal life to ruining it for themselves and their entire family? Tyler (Harrison) is willing to throw everything away when a medical issue interrupts his love life and a promising sports career. Tyler is a junior in high school with an overbearing father (Brown), and a dedicated stepmother (Goldsberry). His younger sister Emily (Russell) watches her brother start to slip, but terrified of upsetting the delicate balance their family has achieved, says nothing. No one is ready for the events that transpire or the damaging effect it will have on their lives.
"Film editor Isaac Hagy creates a vortex of no escape, quickly sucking us into this drama."
Shults wants his audience to be nervous and on edge. Film editor Isaac Hagy creates a vortex of no escape, quickly sucking us into this drama. A camera mounted on the inside roof of their vehicle, spinning 360 degrees, introduces us to the characters, blaring music and enjoying life. Shults uses this creative technique continually throughout the film and the perspective gives you an uneasy feeling each time. “Waves” has a lot to say about teen sex and how teenagers are ill-equipped to handle the emotional consequences that come with that type of relationship.
In “Waves” second act Lucas Hedges provides some comic relief after the defining act one. The latter half isn’t as energetic, reining in most of the technical elements that made the first so compelling. This act is all Russell wading through the aftermath and finding perspective. “Waves” is told through the eyes of the children. Brown and Goldberry have limited screentime in both acts. In the first act, Brown’s character is almost villain-like, who won’t even give his son a chance to break between a full schedule. Yet the father disappears when a breakdown occurs and the screenplay never explains his absence. “Waves” offers the viewer a lot to feel and experience with a message on how quickly we can ruin our own lives.
"Waves" is the strongest entry yet from Shults, executing a distinct vision with edgy technicality.